Recent advances in contaminant identification methodologies, sampling instrumentation, and analytical chemistry have caused an explosion of knowledge about the presence of previously undetected organic micropollutants. While it doesn't follow that the mere presence of chemical contaminants results in harm, public health experts, regulators, and others aren't sitting idly by.
Given the necessity of water to all life forms, emerging data about the presence of previously undetected substances has garnered the attention of consumers, regulators, elected officials, and the media. Following are examples of water and wastewater organic micropollutants that have emerged as high profile contaminants, and the technical challenges regulators and others face in defining, managing, and communicating potential risk posed by these substances.
Endocrine Disrupting Compounds
A heightened concern about potential effects of exposure to endocrine disrupting compounds (EDC) was reflected in Congress' 1996 enactment of the Food Quality Protection Act and amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act. Both laws include provisions requiring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to identify, characterize, and regulate EDCs, as appropriate. After much work, in April 2009 EPA published the final list of the first group of chemicals to be screened under the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program. EPA began issuing testing orders in October 2009 to obtain data on whether endocrine effects exist.
Pharmaceuticals/Personal Care Products
There's heightened concern about the presence in wastewater and drinking water of pharmaceuticals and chemicals commonly found in personal care products (PCP). Pharmaceuticals (including those for veterinary use) are prescribed to address and/or prevent illness or infection and are intentionally designed to interfere with a biological system. PCPs are typically synthetic organic compounds derived for use by individuals in soaps, lotions, beauty aids, sunscreens, fragrances, and related PCPs and aren't typically designed to interact with biological systems.
Consumer applications of nanoscale materials have recently received much attention. An inventory of consumer products maintained by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, D.C., identifies more than 1,000 nano-enabled products in commerce today, marketed in more than 21 countries.
While the PEN inventory is only one and an admittedly imprecise measure of rapid deployment of nanotechnology in consumer products, it's frequently cited as a fairly reliable gauge of nano commercialization.